ROME, September 10- Ferrari, a byword for flashy sports cars, hit rough ground Wednesday with the shock announcement that its president of 23 years, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, has been pushed out after a boardroom split.
Just days after saying he wanted to stay, Montezemolo — who has been dogged by six years of Formula One racing failure — announced he will be stepping down on October 13.
The top job at the Italian Ferrari luxury sports car company will be taken over by the head of parent group Fiat, Sergio Marchionne.
A press conference held by Montezemolo and Marchionne was announced for Wednesday afternoon.
Ferrari is the biggest and most glamourous name in Formula One racing, competing on the Grand Prix circuit with huge success since it started in 1950, and the team’s logo of a black stallion against a red background is instantly recognised by motorsport fans around the world.
But the brand’s poor performance over the past six years, combined with recent clashes in strategy between Montezemolo and Fiat, had led racing watchers to tip his likely exit.
The decision not to appoint Montezemolo to the new board of the merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also suggested the Italian businessman was on the way out.
“Our desire to see Ferrari express its full potential on the track led to certain mutual misunderstandings that were voiced publicly this weekend,” Marchionne said in a statement Wednesday.
“I want to personally thank Luca for everything he has done for Fiat, for Ferrari, and for myself,” he said.
Ferrari is a subsidiary of the Fiat Group which Montezemolo, aged 67, chaired from 2004 until 2010.
His 23 years at the wheel of Ferrari saw the team’s drivers win the Formula One title six times, but the last title came in 2007 and the team has struggled since then to compete on the track with the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes.
– ‘No-one is indispensable’ –
On Saturday, Montezemolo had publicly stated he wanted to spend another three years in the job.
Marchionne was also quoted at the weekend saying no changes in Ferrari’s management were planned while adding, “No-one is indispensable”.
“Montezemolo’s business record is very good but in the case of Ferrari, a leader must also be judged on sporting results,” he had said.
Concerns over Ferrari’s future under the Italian aristocrat were also raised in June after he said he may pull his team out of Formula One because it “isn’t working”, and suggested the firm may switch to sports-car competition.
Scuderia Ferrari has longstanding disputes with Formula One governing body the Federation International d’Automobile (FIA), and Montezemolo expressed frustration with recent changes in F1 rules, saying new environmentally friendly policies were taking the excitement out of the sport.
His suggestion that the most iconic brand in motorsport could leave Formula One sent shockwaves through the sport.
He was also said to have clashed with Marchionne over sales strategies.
While Montezemolo reportedly hoped to keep the red and black brand exclusive by limiting sales to some 7,000 cars a year, Marchionne has been pushing for Ferrari to help Fiat Chrysler move into the premium end of the car market.
On Monday Montezemolo was quoted by Italy’s best-selling daily Il Corriere della Sera telling aides that “Ferrari is now American”, which meant “the end of an era.”
At midday trading, Fiat shares were up 2.08 percent to 7.85 euros on the Milan stock market.
Fiat said Montezemolo would leave the job at his own request at the end of celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the company’s presence in the United States.
“An era is ending, and I have decided to leave the presidency after 23 marvelous and unforgettable years,” Montezemolo said in a separate statement.